‘1923’: How Realistic Are the Brutal Boarding School Scenes?
Through the first two episodes of the Paramount+ drama, the boarding school scenes have been most difficult to reconcile. That's saying something because this new, Harrison Ford-led drama has also included several fights, four hangings and two brutal leopard attacks.
In taking viewers inside Native American boarding schools, creator Taylor Sheridan is shining a light on government-sanctioned abuse in the late 19th and early 20th century. Yes, Indian boarding schools were real and yes, they were as brutal as the one depicted in 1923. This is your spoiler alert warning.
Who Is Teonna Rainwater on 1923?
"These are stories that have been shared throughout my family for generations," says actor Aminah Nieves, who plays Teonna Rainwater in 1923. "I had that, just our own experiences of being indigenous to turtle island. Also, I did talk to various other elders from different tribes as well."
The teenaged character is part of the Crow tribe, and like many girls and boys her age (or younger), she has been shipped off to a church-led boarding school designed to assimilate indigenous people.
Nieves admits she was very nervous to accept her first major acting role, and during interviews with Taste of Country and other outlets, she's talked about filming scenes with Jennifer Ehle (Sister Mary) and Sebastian Roché (Father Renaud). Almost every scene becomes horrifically violent — on two separate occasions the priest submits Teonna to extreme torture (lashings in Ep. 1 and a day in a sun-scorched "hot box" during Ep. 2).
Ehle tells Decider that she and Nieves had safe words they could use when filming.
"Yeah, we had it all," Nieves adds. "After every take, we would just hug it out. After those scenes were finished, we would cry together. I was very safe."
A Too-Short History of Indian Boarding Schools:
In the late 1800s, the American government began forcing indigenous families to send their kids to one of (per Montana Public Radio) 400 federal boarding schools. Among the most influential was Carlile Indian Industrial School, founded by Captain Richard Pratt. He's quoted as saying "Kill the Indian, save the man" during a speech in 1892. George Mason University posted the full speech and — while no less horrific — his actual quote was, "Kill the Indian in him, and save the man." It was a response to a general who stated the only good Indian is a dead one and he thought he was showing compassion.
Children would remain at these schools for years and be forced to wear Western clothing, adopt Western religions, change their names and learn how to farm, ranch or work some other form of industrial job.
"First they cut my hair, then they made me eat soap and then they beat me for speaking my language," Joe Wheeler is quoted as saying in a descriptive piece of journalism found at the University of Oklahoma's website. He attended the Wichita-Caddo School in Oklahoma.
"These are stories that have been shared throughout my family for generations."
It's easy to find more stories of this kind of abuse at these boarding schools. Until recently, it was more difficult to find a much more tragic reminder.
Last spring, CBS News and other outlets reported on the hundreds of unmarked graves found at Indian boarding schools in Canada, noting that thousands never made it home and many of the victims were physically or sexually abused.
The Montana Public Radio article notes the discovery of unmarked graves at 53 schools in America.